Sunday, March 27, 2011

the dreaded alpha roll

There was a 7-year-old Welsh Corgi in our agility class the other day... a walk-in style class that's meant for the dogs to have fun and be exposed to agility equipment in a non-stressful, low-expectation environment.  The class was light that day -- only 5 dogs total -- and this was his first class ever.  He was there with his owner and her two adult daughters, and the daughters were taking turns going through the course with him.

Towards the middle of the class, Mr. Corgi slowed down and began refusing some of the obstacles, despite the lures.  He had run through the course several times and he was obviously tired.  On one of the last runs, one of the daughters grabbed his leash and started walking him towards the equipment.  He stopped dead in his tracks and pressed down firmly with his front legs.  The girl gave the leash a tug and he fought against her, pulling backwards against the tightened leash, and then he laid down.

He was done. Totally shut down.  You could see him shutting down on his previous run, so really they should have ended it there.  But this girl was determined to get the dog on the equipment; she wanted him to go through the course one more time.

I told her he was done, she should ask him to sit, down, paw, etc., whatever he knows that is easy and reward him for doing it, so they can end on a good note and move on.  But she wasn't going to let that happen.  She was going to get that dog on that equipment, no matter what.

Her face got red as the dog refused to budge. She kept pressure the leash in an effort to get him to follow along.  His body language was not good; he was staring right at her and holding his ground. I looked around and saw the look on other people's faces, and most of them were as confused as I was, wondering why this was still happening.

The girl finally gave a little slack on the leash, and then yanked it once, really hard.  And Mr. Corgi growled at her.

I could see it coming from a mile away.  This had happened before with this dog; he braced himself when she gave slack.  He knew what was coming; and I knew what was coming next if she kept this up.

I'm honestly not sure what she had expected.  He had given her every other signal he knew that said he was done.  He stopped, he froze, he avoided looking at her, he put all his weight on his back legs and pulled back from her, he laid down... And he was polite about it, as far as growls go.  He growled a low, soft grumble, as if he was letting her know, "Please back off and leave me be!"  He didn't lunge, snap, snarl, or move forward in any way.  He was simply protesting, "No! I've had enough!"

But that was the last straw.  She was already embarrassed that she couldn't get him to follow, and now he had the audacity to growl at her?!

I started to say, "You're going to get..." but before I could finish, she reached down and snatched his collar and a struggle ensured.  The dog was panicked, trying to get out of his collar and run, and he twisted his body around and the girl let go of his collar.  She quickly went to grab him again and he bit her hand, breaking skin.

The girl grabbed him by the neck and attempted to roll him over on his back.  For a small dog, he put up a big fight.  I protested as this was happening, but the girl wasn't listening. She's already started and was committed to dominating this dog.

Roxy let out several whines as she watched the poor dog struggle to get away.  He was whining and letting out these awful yelping noises. Roxy was shuffling in place; she ran behind me, in front of me, and behind me again.  She sat down, whined, and looked up at me.  She could feel his fear, I know it.  Her look was asking me to help him, but there was nothing I could do.  If I got close to that situation, Roxy would have reacted, either to the dog, or the girl.  Nothing I said had stopped her, and I felt so helpless.

We had to walk out. I was so upset watching this debacle, and Roxy was visibly stressed. I don't know if dogs can perceive things the same way we do, but whether it was because of what she saw or what she heard, she was obviously unsettled.

I'm still baffled by what happened... This poor dog's body language was all over the place. He was scared and looking for a way out of the situation. When he realized he was screwed, he tried to make her back off.  You could see he didn't want to bite her, but was prepared to if she threatened his safety. Yet this girl continued to push this dog as if he wasn't going to defend himself. I'm not sure what she thought would happen. I could see it coming a mile away.

It was really difficult to watch.  I've seen it in videos before, but usually it's edited so you don't see the whole thing, and often times the sounds are edited out as well.

Watching it in person and listening to this dog struggle was awful.  I can't believe people do this to "train" their dogs.  Not only does it not teach them anything (except to be scared of us), it so easily results in a bite.  I keep seeing it happening in my head and I can't help but cringe. There were so many moments that this could have ended well, yet the girl kept bushing him.

I spoke with the instructor after, and although she agreed that wasn't the appropriate thing to do, it wasn't for the same reasons.  She said the "dominance down" isn't appropriate because not everyone can physically dominate their dog like that.  I told her I thought they should have stopped after his last run, but she disagreed.  She said once they started, they "have to follow through" with making the dog do some of the obstacles.

Needless to say I will be looking for another agility facility to bring Roxy to.  I can't continue to go to and support a training facility that thinks that's appropriate or acceptable.

I found a new place about a half hour from us, but they don't have any open classes that fit our schedule right now.  They don't offer a walk-in style class, but I think Roxy's ready for the next level now anyway.  That's actually the whole reason I started with the walk-in class first, to make sure she could handle a group setting like that.

This place in Randolph, Morris K9 Campus, uses humane training. I have to call and talk to them, but it looks promising.

1 comment:

  1. how awful for that poor Corgi. And how difficult to watch such a thing and be helpless to stop it. I'm sorry you witnessed this and could not intervene.

    So glad you found a new place to go though!